Take a walk down 55th street. Notice the chop-shop of bicycle carcasses chained up with lonely U-locks on the racks outside the Treasure Island plaza. Head west. Watch as the bicyclist swerves to avoid that pothole in front of Pierce. There is clearly a problem here: Hyde Park is a dangerous and unsuitable place for biking. The Recycles program and packed bike stands are testaments to the popularity of biking on campus, but there are a couple of roadblocks to overcome before reaping the benefits of such interest.
The first thing to note is that, despite the challenges, a significant portion of students own a bicycle. The advantage is obvious: Although campus is only about one square mile in area, that size seems to triple with every five degree drop in temperature. A bike also increases accessibility to bordering neighborhoods—even the Loop is a manageable ride from here. Unfortunately, Hyde Park itself is far from being a biker’s haven.
The most conspicuous danger is presented by the roads. Many Hyde Park streets are narrow, one-way, and riddled with potholes. These problems are magnified during the winter months, when the roadsides are banked with snow and ice patches are a constant danger. The amount of usable road space is severely limited, and in a neighborhood without a particularly strong bike culture, you can’t always trust the person in the minivan to know the rules governing right-of-way.
Repaving worn roads is an obvious first step, but the effort should not stop there. Bike lanes should be cordoned off on the sides of most roads, with separated bike lanes built on large ones like 55th street. This would ensure safety not only for bikers, but for the pedestrians who frequently find themselves in the path of an oncoming rider. Road signs for bicycles should also be posted to make sure both riders and drivers know the rules to avoid street accidents. In addition, more bike racks should be placed on campus and around the neighborhood. The University should also consider adopting a bicycle locker program to deter fear of theft; it’s more efficient to prevent stealing than to pursue suspects after the crime.
Furthermore, it is consistent with the University’s stated goals of community development to facilitate safer and more convenient bicycle transportation, both on campus and in Hyde Park. For one, it would lead to a higher interaction between the campus and the neighborhood. People would no longer plan their schedules around the 171 and 172 buses or make decisions based on the hassle of transport. With a bike, it’s easy to have class in the BSLC, get lunch at Bonjour Bakery & Café, and return for a lecture in Harper within an hour. This not only encourages students living off-campus to come by campus more often, but it also encourages them to participate in the Hyde Park community.
Safety is the first priority in any biking environment, and the U of C is no exception. Once the roads and pathways of Hyde Park have been safeguarded, civic engagement and a more active student body are the inevitable consequences. Biking undoubtedly improves student life: It opens up the community, increases student convenience, and eases congestion among various transportation options. The only thing impeding its growth is the University’s reluctance to pave the way.
The Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional Editorial Board member.